5 shocking dark web facts we bet you didn’t know: Unveiling the hidden underworld

Discover 5 shocking facts about the dark web that will surprise you. Explore the hidden aspects of this secretive online world.

May 16, 2024 - 15:39
May 23, 2024 - 12:18
5 shocking dark web facts we bet you didn’t know: Unveiling the hidden underworld
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Many negative aspects of the internet are often attributed to the 'dark web,' but what is it exactly? Contrary to popular belief, only 1.5% of traffic on the secretive Tor network is categorized as dark web. Is it merely a tech myth? How concerned should people be?

To clarify misconceptions, we've examined evidence and consulted experts. Here are 5 things about the 2024 dark web that may surprise you.

What do we mean by dark web?

What is the dark web? You've likely heard the rumors: drug markets, fraud hubs, cybercrime marketplaces, and disturbing content. How much of this is true?

Certainly, some of it.

How can you access the dark web? The fastest method is to download and install the Tor dark web browser. This browser routes your traffic through the Tor network, allowing you to access the hidden depths of the web.

Nevertheless, this deepest layer is where much of the illicit activity occurs.

The Tor network often hosts dark web websites and forums engaged in illegal activities such as drug trafficking, hacking, trading stolen data, and more.

Despite these negative aspects, a closer examination reveals a mix of contradictions. It's both expansive and confined, chaotic yet highly organized.

Amidst criminality and questionable transactions, there are enough positive aspects to argue that the dark web has a net positive impact.

So, what occurs when you access the dark web? Let's delve deeper.

Unveiling the dark web: 5 lesser-known facts

1. Size matters: Big and small

When considering the unindexed deep web, the dark web appears vast. According to ExpressVPN, it spans approximately 7,500 terabytes of data, compared to the surface web's 20 TB. This suggests that 90-95% of the internet is concealed from public view.

Depending on one's stance on privacy rights, this statistic may be alarming. However, the actual dark web—the one that concerns law enforcement and cybersecurity teams—is much smaller.

A study conducted by King's College London analyzed over 2,700 dark websites and found that roughly 60% hosted objectionable content.

In the grand scheme of online activity, this constitutes a minuscule portion. ExpressVPN estimates that the dark web accounts for less than 5% of the total internet.

2. Bright beginnings: Legal aspects

"One surprising aspect often overlooked in discussions about the dark web is that a significant portion of its content and activity is entirely legal," notes Stephen Kowski, Field CTO at SlashNext Security.

In fact, the original purpose of Tor was to conceal communications and protect the identities of US agents and dissidents operating in authoritarian regimes.

Similarly, Freenet (now Hyphanet), another network often used by criminals for its anonymity features, was initially launched to safeguard freedom of speech and combat censorship.

3. AI is transforming the landscape

Large language models (LLMs) are increasingly popular on the surface web, and dark web users are also adopting them. Cybersecurity experts have observed a rise in advertisements for ChatGPT clones in the darker corners of the web.

A January 2024 report by Kaspersky identified over 3,000 dark web posts discussing how ChatGPT and LLMs could be utilized for criminal activities.

One variant, known as FraudGPT, aims to deceive individuals into divulging personal or financial information.

Another, named WormGPT, can be employed for AI-driven phishing campaigns and executing business email compromise (BEC) attacks.

Subscription fees for these services can be as low as $100-200 per month.

4. Decentralized control

According to Securin's Chinnagangannagari, Tor's open network of web servers enables the dark web to function as a decentralized entity without a central authority or organization. This layered complexity also makes it challenging to combat dark web adversaries.

"It lacks centralized points of vulnerability, making it more difficult for authorities to infiltrate using conventional methods," he explains.

"By routing web traffic through a network of proxy servers managed by volunteers worldwide, Tor hides users' IP addresses, making them virtually untraceable and providing a level of privacy and anonymity that is unattainable on the surface web."

5. Organizational structure

Contrary to common belief, the dark web is not chaotic.

"It is a very well-organized, structured ecosystem with different layers and roles responsible for specific functions," says AJ Nash, VP & Distinguished Fellow of Intelligence at ZeroFox.

The dark web encompasses a cybercriminal underground economy supply chain, from initial access brokers (IABs) scanning networks of vulnerable organizations to ransomware operators purchasing the intelligence.

The most significant dangers include the potential for dark web actors to target individuals and organizations. While urban myths like Red Rooms and Murder for Hire sites appear to be non-existent or scams, the real concern in 2024 is the rise of cybercrime as a service (CaaS). This development, highlighted by Imperva's Hasson, means that businesses must remain vigilant, as the dark web has made it much easier for fraudsters and thieves to enter the cybercrime arena.

In a case demonstrating cybercrime's adoption of concepts from legitimate business practices, ZeroFox’s Nash highlights a growing trend of collaboration among dark web groups. He notes that this collaboration has significantly benefited cybercriminals by providing them with well-organized operations that boost their profits. Nash observes a shift in communication among these groups, moving away from public platforms towards forming partnerships and affiliate programs that unite illicit advertising brokers (IABs) with ransomware operators.

Sam Curry, Global VP, CISO at Zscaler, emphasized to Techopedia the importance of protecting businesses from dark web threats, stating that it goes beyond just monitoring credit card numbers or addressing isolated employee issues. He believes that effective protection involves establishing guidelines that steer web traffic in the right direction while respecting privacy and the rights of all parties involved.

The overarching advice is to exercise caution when considering accessing the dark web. While there are legitimate reasons to do so, such as maintaining privacy, anonymity, or protecting whistleblowers, there is also a significant amount of illicit activity. Ngoc Bui, a Cybersecurity Expert at Menlo Security, warns that delving too deeply into the dark web can lead to traumatic experiences. Bui suggests that after encountering disturbing content, individuals become more wary of navigating the dark web's complex networks.

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